Spend a day filled with spiritual fulfillment at about 1300-year-old temple

Spend a day filled with spiritual fulfillment at about 1300-year-old temple

31 Jan 2022

The KANSAI Guide

Mii-dera Temple is an ancient temple boasting a history of some about 1300 years founded in the 7th century. It is often referred to as the "Phoenix Temple" because of how it has repeatedly endured disasters - over 50 fires and a number of domestic conflicts - yet it continues to stand strong. Mii-dera Temple is also home to 64 National Treasures and 720 Important Cultural Properties and is considered one of the best treasure troves of cultural properties in Japan.
There are various special cultural experiences available at Mii-dera Temple; a private and exclusive tour to view a selection of the prized Important Cultural Properties, a talk on Buddhism directly from the chief priest, a Zen meditation (zazen, seated meditation) experience at a National Treasure guest house, a private stay on temple grounds, and the chance to experience a Tendai Esoteric Buddhism service. An entire 24-hours spent at Mii-dera Temple offers a holistic and fulfilling experience where you can dive deep into the rich history and culture of Japanese Buddhism in Shiga Prefecture.

A temple tested by time and countless calamities for about 1300 years

Daimon, the main entrance to Mii-dera Temple. Two nio statues stand on either side of the gate to protect the temple.

Daimon, the main entrance to Mii-dera Temple. Two nio statues stand on either side of the gate to protect the temple.

Mii-dera Temple was built on the southwestern edge of Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan. The temple is also in close proximity to Kyoto (roughly 14 kilometers), the capital of Japan prior to Tokyo. Not many people know that Omi in Shiga Prefecture, where the temple is located, was briefly the capital of Japan before Kyoto.

Mii-dera Temple is the head temple of the Jimon sect of Tendai Buddhism, and is one of the four largest temples in Japan with 40 named buildings on the temple grounds. It is also the 14th temple along the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage route. Being about 1300 years old, the temple is the enduring center of the region’s and Japan’s rich history and culture; spending a day here only gets you a glimpse, but an in-depth experience nonetheless.

Experience zazen meditation at the National Treasure guest house, Kangaku-in Kyakuden

Being able to meditate at a National Treasure site is a truly rare experience.

Being able to meditate at a National Treasure site is a truly rare experience.

Zazen – seated Zen meditation - is at the core of many Buddhist practices, and it’s not uncommon to experience this at temples throughout Japan. However, at Mii-dera Temple, the experience is conducted with exclusive access to one of the buildings that are not open to the public. Kangaku-in Kyakuden is a National Treasure guest house which sits within its own gated corridors. It is deemed a National Treasure because of its valuable representation of the shoin-zukuri architecture style that was developed during the Muromachi period (1336-1573) for samurai homes. Every wall and room partition comes alive with strikingly beautiful artwork in the Kano school of Japanese painting, each depicting traditional elements that represent Japan, such as calming waterfalls and playful animals.

On the wooden porch overlooking a private garden, a monk will guide you through a traditional zazen experience. "Zazen is not something that people do. It's your own will to enter the state of nothingness, and the rest is left to the Buddha," he explains. Soon, the nothingness blends you with the sounds of nature; birds chirping, the water flowing, the wind rattling the leaves, and your own heart beating slowly and rhythmically.

Spend a night at Myogon-in Hall and immerse yourself in monastic life at Mii-dera Temple

The 400-year-old building, which used to be the Buddhist priests’ quarters, has been transformed into a beautiful lodge exclusively available to one group per day.

The 400-year-old building, which used to be the Buddhist priests’ quarters, has been transformed into a beautiful lodge exclusively available to one group per day.

To get the most out of exploring Mii-dera Temple, it’s only natural to spend the night immersed in its presence, too. Waqoo Mii-dera offers private accommodation on the grounds, and a stay here is limited to one group per day. The 400-year-old building used to be the Buddhist priests’ quarters at Myogon-in Hall and it has been renovated and reinvented as a private luxury stay.

The interior of the 5-room building was designed and produced by Japanese architect, Tei Shuwa, who incorporated Japanese touches such as use of washi paper, earthy tones including mud walls, and touches of traditional wa culture within a modern ambiance. It is a harmonious mix of traditional Japanese Buddhist architecture with touches of simple modernism. The rooms are centered around a stunning Buddhist altar with a Fudo Myo-o statue that is exclusively reserved for prayer and worship by guests. Even guests who aren’t religious can appreciate the beauty and artistry of the setting and moments of quiet contemplation before the altar.

As the sun sets and the temple visitors leave the grounds, the private lodge and 800 square meters around it becomes your own space to reflect on your time at Mii-dera Temple. Embrace the serene setting and feel the rich history of your surroundings.

Witness a Tendai Esoteric Buddhism service

Esoteric Buddhist rituals performed by priests during a scripture reading service. It is said that with repetition of the process, priests get closer to becoming one with Buddha.

Esoteric Buddhist rituals performed by priests during a scripture reading service. It is said that with repetition of the process, priests get closer to becoming one with Buddha.

Wake up with the sunrise and join the morning scripture reading by an Esoteric Buddhist priest at the Kannon-do Hall. This hall is the 14th stop along the 33 temples in Western Japan as part of the Kansai Kannon Pilgrimage route, and it is dedicated to the Kannon Bodhisattva. The chanting of the sutra is both enlightening and mystifying; a mixture of helping you wake up and putting you in a meditative trance. The service is more than just reading and chanting; the priest leading the service sits on a ceremonial seat called the raiban, which is placed before the alter, and conducts a ritual honed over the centuries. The supporting monks aid them by chanting sutras and mantras which becomes a soothing accompaniment.

"The series of actions I perform follows the ritual of Tendai Esoteric Buddhism. I think of the Buddha in my heart, focus on my movements, and chant the mantra. By doing this, I become one with the Buddha". Listening to the story of such a priest will further your understanding of the Buddhist rituals that you see and experience at Mii-dera Temple, and deepen your understanding and appreciation of Buddhist culture as a whole.

Preview the experience online

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